As of this writing, COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise. To that end, it’s not a matter of if we may experience another surge in the coming months, it’s more than likely just a matter of when infections will escalate. The coming surge in infections should be a reminder that if you’ve been treated for gum disease in the past, it’s time to schedule a periodontal check-up. Likewise, if you’re exhibiting any symptoms of gum disease, schedule a dental appointment. The reason? Gum disease puts you at greater risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Gum Disease and COVID-19: What The Science Tells Us
By now we’re all aware of the main risk factors for developing severe COVID-19. Age, underlying conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and respiratory problems, along with obesity, are all known risk factors for severe illness from the coronavirus. But a growing body of evidence, compiled from studies in the U.S., the U.K., and Mexico has found that gum disease is also a significant risk factor for developing severe symptoms and sickness from COVID-19.
For periodontists, this link comes as no surprise. After all, we know that active infections in the mouth can lead to systemic inflammation in the body. In worst cases, bacteria in infected gums may enter the bloodstream, causing heart disease, pregnancy complications, and more. In patients with gum disease who contract COVID-19, that bacteria can easily complicate healthy lung and respiratory function as well.
Many researchers suspect that ACE2 receptors in the mouth are overactive in people with gum disease. Since the ACE2 receptors in the mouth are a known point of entry for COVID-19, it is certainly plausible that this overactivity makes those with periodontitis less resistant to a viral infection such as coronavirus.
Although the science is still emerging, and more will be revealed, we know that gum disease (AKA periodontal disease) triggers inflammatory cytokines. Unfortunately, as all too many people have experienced, cytokine storms are commonly found in patients with severe COVID-19.
Maintaining Gum Health is Essential to Maintaining Overall Health
Gum disease can often be treated very easily. Treatments such as scaling and root planing (also known as deep cleanings) are frequently all that is needed to treat minor gum disease. For more severe gum disease, your periodontist may tell you that you need osseous surgery.
Osseous surgery is also called pocket depth reduction. Pocket depth reduction is an oral surgery that removes all bacteria beneath the gum line and near the tooth root. The goal of osseous surgery is to minimize the depth of periodontal pockets so the treated area is cleansable and to prevent bacteria from building up in them. Osseous surgery is very successful in managing periodontal disease for most people.
If you’ve ever been diagnosed with gum disease, it’s important to stay on a periodontal maintenance program. Maintaining healthy gums with regular calculus and tartar removal can prevent your gum disease from returning.